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Hair color, bond connect top pitching prospects

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Hair color, bond connect top pitching prospects play video for Hair color, bond connect top pitching prospects

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Taijuan Walker wanted to do something different this offseason. Not with his workout routine. Not with his pitching motion. Just with his hair.

So there's a new-look Walker in Mariners camp this spring. Think Dennis Rodman. Felix Hernandez did, as soon as he saw the young pitching protégé, and quickly tracked down a photo of Rodman to tack up in Walker's locker.

What led to the transformation?

"Three weeks ago I was just kind of lying around and wanted to do blonde, so I went to Fry's and picked up some hair color and came back and came up with this," Walker said.

Walker, the No. 5 prospect in baseball in this year's MLB.com rankings, got a little help from fellow pitching prospect Brandon Maurer. The two are living together -- along with four other young Mariners prospects -- in a house about 10 minutes away from the team's training complex.

When Walker came back with his hair dye, Maurer volunteered to do the deed. And after making over his buddy's close-cropped hair, Maurer figured he might as well do his own transformation.

"I had all that dye in my glove, so I just thought, 'Ehhh,' and started putting it on my hair," Maurer said. "I'd never done that before, but it's interesting."

So are the futures of the two youngsters, who competed together on the Double-A Jackson squad last year. Walker has been on everyone's radar since he was selected with Seattle's top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but the 22-year-old Maurer has taken a different course.

Maurer was a 23rd-round selection out of high school in 2008 and didn't wow anyone in the Rookie League and Class A ranks his first four years. But the 6-foot-5 right-hander blossomed last year into the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher with a 9-2 record and 3.20 ERA in 24 starts, and now is often mentioned in conjunction with the Mariners' Big Three pitching prospects of Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton.

"Last year was kind of the first time I'd been completely healthy the full year and feeling strong, because I'd made a point of staying here over the offseason and working out," Maurer said. "So going into the season I felt real strong and knew my body, I guess. That was probably the biggest thing about last year, just feeling good."

He's feeling even better this spring, having been invited to his first Major League camp. He sits in the Mariners' spring clubhouse next to his buddy Walker and the two clearly have a close bond. Not to mention similar hair color, even though Maurer also sports a long goatee and a full flop on top of his head.

Walker gives his roommate props as a hair stylist.

"He did a good job," Walker said with a grin. "At first he missed a couple spots, so we had to go over it again, but it came out good."

And the reaction?

"Some people are just, 'Wow. I like it,'" Walker said. "I don't know if they're serious or not, but I like it. And my mom likes it, I think. At least she says she likes it."

As for his arm, which is of slightly more interest to the Mariners' brass?

"My first bullpens went really well," Walker said. "My arm felt great and everything is good. It helps a lot to have been here last year. I'm more comfortable. I know a lot of the guys. I feel more confident coming in the second time around."

The young guns are a huge part of the future in the organization. Walker, Hultzen and Paxton are in their second big league camps, and Maurer is taking his cues from them.

"They just said to have fun, be yourself and try to learn as much as you can," Maurer said.

And, yeah, the big youngster from Costa Mesa, Calif., takes a little extra pride in being the underdog of the group and seeing his name now mentioned along with the Big Three.

"It's different because I've never been talked about like that before, being a low-round Draft pick," he said. "I just kind of worked my way up, from mediocre through the Minor Leagues. But it's cool. It gives me something to work for."

And when the work is done, Maurer and Walker head to their rental house to hang out and play a little pingpong, video games, or volleyball in the backyard.

It's a nice bond, one that allows Maurer to playfully analyze exactly why Walker decided he needed a new look this spring.

"I don't know what goes on in that kid's head," Maurer said with a laugh. "But I think it's working."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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